(Poem #101) The Bells
Hear the sledges with the bells-- Silver bells-- What a world of merriment their melody foretells! How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, In the icy air of night! While the stars that oversprinkle All the heavens, seem to twinkle With a crystalline delight; Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells From the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells,-- From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells. Hear the mellow wedding-bells, Golden bells! What a world of happiness their harmony foretells! Through the balmy air of night How they ring out their delight From the molten-golden notes! And all in tune, What a liquid ditty floats To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats On the moon! Oh, from out the sounding cells, What a gust of euphony voluminously wells! How it swells! How it dwells On the Future! how it tells Of rapture that impels To the swinging and the ringing Of the bells, bells, bells-- Of the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells-- To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells! Hear the loud alarum bells-- Brazen bells! What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells! In the startled ear of night How they scream out their affright! Too much horrified to speak, They can only shriek, shriek, Out of tune, In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire, In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire Leaping higher, higher, higher With a desperate desire, And a resolute endeavor, Now--now to sit or never, By the side of the pale-faced moon. Oh, the bells, bells, bells! What a tale their terror tells Of despair! How they clang, and clash, and roar! What a horror they outpour On the bosom of the palpitating air! Yet the ear, it fully knows, By the twanging And the clanging, How the danger ebbs and flows; Yet the ear distinctly tells, In the jangling And the wrangling, How the danger sinks and swells, By the sinking of the swelling in the anger of the bells-- Of the bells-- Of the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells,-- In the clamor and the clangor of the bells! Hear the tolling of the bells-- Iron bells! What a world of solemn thought their monody compels! In a silence of the night How we shiver with affright At the melancholy menace of their tone! For every sound that floats From the rust within their throats, Is a groan: And the people--ah, the people-- They that dwell up in the steeple, All alone, And who, tolling, tolling, tolling, In that muffled monotone, Feel a glory in so rolling On the human heart a stone-- They are neither man nor woman-- They are neither brute nor human-- They are Ghouls! And their king it is who tolls; And he rolls, rolls, rolls, rolls, A paean from the bells! And his merry bosom swells With the paean of the bells! And he dances and he yells; Keeping time, time, time In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the paean of the bells-- Of the bells; Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the throbbing of the bells-- Of the bells, bells, bells, To the sobbing of the bells; Keeping time, time, time, As he knells, knells, knells, In a happy Runic rhyme, To the rolling of the bells,-- Of the bells, bells, bells-- To the tolling of the bells, Of the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells,-- To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.
Seldom have I seen form and content so well integrated as in Poe's 'Bells'. The poem needs very little explanation, but it's interesting to see how it does what it does, and since it exemplifies a lot of the things I like about Poe, and indeed about poetry in general, I thought it'd be a nice idea to examine it in some detail. The repetition of the word 'bells' is the most immediately obvious 'effect'. Along with the long cascades of mostly masculine rhymes, and the pervasive alliteration, it sets up the basic structure of the poem; the background beat if you like, or the central melody around which more complex themes are woven. The other basic effect is provided by the sounds of the words themselves. Apart from the deliberately onomatopoeic words like 'tintinabulation', the poem abounds with sonorants, and pure vowels (as opposed to diphthongs) that lend it a bell-like clarity and resonance. After this, the poem separates into verses, the form of each verse being shaped by its underlying theme. Thus, the first verse has short vowels and precise sounds, mimicking the 'sledges with the bells-- silver bells'. The second verse has a more mellow sound, with the longer, deeper 'o' and the softer 'e' replacing 'i' as the dominant vowel, and the next two verses likewise evoking dissonance (shorter syllables, more hurried lines, harsher consonants) and an almost Hardyish sense of time and death (heavy repetition, far less vibrant sounds). Of course, these aren't standalone effects, but rather both rely on and reinforce the actual content of the verse. And finally, the metronomic effect is broken by a number of interesting devices, including unexpectedly irregular line lengths, missing syllables, implied rests, an irregular rhyme scheme, the occasional feminine rhyme and at least one broken rhyme ('ghouls' in the third verse), all of which act as a sort of counterpoint to the basic rhythm.  Especially given Poe's views on the crafting of poetry (see 'The Philosophy of Composition', <[broken link] http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/works/philosophy.html>)  Masculine rhymes are those that rhyme on the last syllable only, as opposed to feminine (last two syllables) and triple rhymes.  In phonetics, any of the nasal, liquid, and glide consonants that are marked by a continuing resonant sound. Sonorants have more acoustic energy than other consonants. In English the sonorants are y, w, l, r, m, n, and ng. Martin Biography etc: See the notes accompanying 'The Raven', poem #85